Though not nearly so ridiculous as THE HERETIC: THE EXORCIST II, nor quite so badly misguided as BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, this stands as one of the most disappointing sequels to a major blockbuster success ever made . The spooky stylization that worked so well in THE GRUDGE is carelessly recycled, chained to a pointless plot that twists together several story-lines without weaving them into a coherent thread, let alone a seamless tapestry. With no new interesting story to tell, few if any worthwhile revelations, and only a handful of decent scary moments, THE GRUDGE 2 is dull affair that, perversely, seems deliberately designed to take a successful formula and reduce it to the level of a direct-to-video franchise knock-off.
Amber Tamblyn takes the lead role of Aubrey Davis, who is the sister of Karen, the character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the first previous film. Her mother (Joanna Cassidy) sends Aubrey to Japan to track down Karen, but the family reunion is brief, ending with Karen’s fall off the top of a hospital building. Aubrey tries to unravel the mystery of what drove Karen to her death. Meanwhile the film intercuts other seemingly unrelated stories: one about another girl who encounters the lethal “grudge,” the other showing a famiy back in the U.S. that seems to be haunted by the “Grudge” at a later date.
The script takes so long to tie these threads together that you will have plenty of time to figure out the connections before the last-reel “revelations.” In the meantime, the pacing plods along, while Aubrey, the ostensible lead, is given little to do. Technically, she takes on the role of amateur detective, but there is nothing for her to detect, and she starts off at a great disadvantage, since we in the audience already know all about what happened to her sister, thanks to having seen THE GRUDGE. In a fairly desperate attempt to come up with some kind of new detail, however trivial, Aubrey learns that Kayako (Takako Fuji), the angry spirit responsible for the “Grudge,” used to foresee the future back in her village when she was a litter girl. This doesn’t tell us anything we need to know or in any way help solve the problem of the “Grudge,” but it does eat up screen time. Worse yet, it’s an overused trope previously seen in RING, NIGHTMARE, and ONE MISSED CALL 2.
The none-too-surprising ending seems crafted to transition the Grudge franchise from its Japanese roots and transfer it to America, where (presumably) low-budget DTV sequels can be churned out, without the input of creator Takashi Shimizu. Considering the predictability of the plotting, it’s no big spoiler to say that one of the leads dies and seems to take over for Kayako, while another manages to get out of Japan safely, bringing the Grudge back with her to the states. With a new ghost and a new location, all that’s needed is a new (cheaper) crew behind the camera. (As if to underline the point, the DVD release contains some short “Grudge” films directed by a young American, suggesting the American producers may tap him to do the next sequel.)
The cast for THE GRUDGE 2 is a mostly charmless lot, with little in the way of charisma to compensate for the script’s dearth of winning dialogue. Jennifer Beals and Joanna Cassidy manage to show some professionalism, and Fuji is again wonderful as the malevolent spirit, but the young actors just don’t have what it takes to fill the big screen – they look like they wandered in from a television pilot that no one told them wasn’t picked up for series.
In the director’s chair, Takashi Shimizu seems bored, delivering the obligatory scares with little of the imagination seen in THE GRUDGE (or in the four Japanese films he made before the American remake). He appears to have been completely undone by the script’s attempt to intertwine three separate stories, set in different time frames, over the course of the entire film. The great thing about his approach to the previous movies was the way the episodic structure created individual “chapters,” each of which built up to and paid off with a great scare. THE GRUDGE 2 offers up long sequences that refuse to pay off immediately, pretending that they’re laying the ground work for a bigger pay off at the end, but when it arrives, it is hardly worth the wait. The only true mystery here is how an approach that worked so well previously – innovative, bold, and effective – could have gone so bad so quickly. If Hollywood had deliberately tried, they couldn’t have driven this into the ground any faster.
THE GRUDGE 2 was released on DVD in a version with the unrated director’s cut, complete with English and Frennch Dolby audio tracks, plus English and French subtitles. Bonus features include:
- East Meets West Featurette
- Grudge 2: Storyline Development Featurette
- “Ready When you Are, Mr. Shimizu” Featurette
- Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Tales from the Grudge (short films)
- Cast & Crew Reel Change Montage
Most of the featurettes are fairly innocuous publicity pieces. The exception is the story development featurette, which (no doubt inadvertently) gives a pretty clear idea what went wrong with the film. Shimizu and his Japanese producer had to work on a story that was acceptable to the American producers. It’s pretty clear that the two sides did not see eye to eye, and in an effort to compromise it seems they ended up with a script that was six of one and half a dozen of the other.
The other bonus features are of minor interest. The “Tales from the Grudge” short subjects are brief blackouts that feel like college student films. They ape, without really capturing, the style and technique of Shimizu’ work.
The deleted scenes are mostly negligible, although there is one nice bit from the ending, where Takako Fuji does her spasmodic Kayako body movements for a scary walk down the hall (a scene that was replaced with an alternate bit of the ghost appearing more abruptly). There is also a brief transitional sequence of the character who “escapes” from Japan packing her bags for the trip home; no doubt this was deleted an effort to maintain the “surprise” ending revealing that she is the one who brought the “Grudge” back to the U.S. And for those wondering why the story thread regarding Aubrey’s mother never pays off, you can see that a final scene was filmed and abandoned, because the effect (basically coughing up a spooky hairball) was utterly ridiculous.
THE GRUDGE 2 (2006). Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Screenplay by Stephen Susco, based on the film JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, written and directed by Shimizu. Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Edison CHen, Ariell Kebbel, Jennifer Beals, Tersa Palmer, Misako Uno, Sarah Roemer, Mattheew Knight, Tatako Fuji, Ohga Tanaka, Joanna Cassidy, Sarah MIchelle Gellar.